Frank Lampard vs. Graeme Le Saux
He can make a strong case for being Chelsea`s best-ever left back, in 2 stints at Chelsea. As an England player, he scored a memorable volleyed goal against Brazil in 1995 (er, in the Umbro Cup). That should be enough for most players to stake their case as a legend.
But Graeme Le Saux has other strings to his bow as one of football`s most articulate sons in England. It is interesting to contrast one Chelsea player with another, in the week when Frank Lampard revealed that he was a supporter of the Conservative party.
For the record, Frank`s declarations were that "I had a really good chat with David. As a footballer I don't want to get involved with the campaigning thing but I am a Tory and I really like David Cameron." Churchillian stuff from a midfielder who has long since fallen over the edge when it comes to taking himself far too seriously.
At the age of 28, Frank Lampard has already written his first autobiography. Few people have read it (you can probably find it in the bargain bins in most Waterstones), and the most memorable review of this book is that which will definitely not be printed on the sleeve, from Joey Barton. "I played shit, here`s my book" is how Barton summed up the tome published immediately after England exited a tournament and Frank`s book seemed like a lengthy and self-indulgent justification for his below-average performances.
Let`s not be misunderstood: Frank Lampard is a first-class athlete and an extraordinary Chelsea player. We wish him a long and successful Chelsea career. However, the aspect of Frank that is becoming more and more irritating is the conceit that he is something more. Is he a role model off the pitch, someone who can give us all lessons on anything, whether party politics, education, immigration or eating vegetables? We say this as Frank has offered his opinions on all these matters. As well as his declarations that he is a Tory, he is always banging on about his education at a Public School in Romford, which clearly marks him out as a budding member of MENSA. In a recent interview he also revealed his simplistic views on the influx of Polish labourers to the building trade. As for eating vegetables, well, we know his involvement in the advertising campaign of a well-known retailer. Actually we`ll let him off the hook for that one, it`s a worthwhile cause.
The point is, Frank is a footballer, and he would do well not to consider that, as a highly-pampered sportsman living in a protective bubble, maybe he has little to offer in the way of advice of the rest of society. He should also recognise that his trade, ultimately, is pretty inconsequential in the scheme of things.
All this is in contrast to Graeme Le Saux. Famously, Graeme did have to fight against prejudice. A trip to Amsterdam with Ken Monkou to attend a football training course soon saw Graeme the butt of 'Camping with Ken` jokes. These took a silly turn when it was revealed that Graeme`s choice of daily reading is The Guardian. Since Graeme had the brains to read an intelligent newspaper (for the record, Frank`s daily papers are The Sun and the Daily Mail), he was, in the eyes of his fellow professionals, a homosexual, and 'accusation` that sounds unbelievable to anyone with a modicum of intelligence.
The taunting soon transcended good-natured ribbing into homophobia. Not that this made it any more or less acceptable, but in Graeme`s case it was all the more crass in that Graeme isn`t gay.
Homophobia is often considered the 'acceptable prejudice` in football. Whilst the game has done much to stamp out racism, anti-semitism and religious bigotry, whereas homophobia is concerned, English football might as well be North Korea (according to a simile used in a memorable article in The Guardian on the subject).
Graeme`s book, 'Left Back` (which is published this month), relates that he received abuse from even that most metrosexual of players, David Beckham (a charge that Beckham`s people have strongly denied). If Beckham, who is quite comfortable with his status as gay icon, was going to abuse Le Saux, what protection would our Graeme have against more moronic players such as Liverpool Legend (elevated by the Scouse faithful as 'God`) Robbie Fowler, who, in 1999, tried to humiliate Graeme with obscene gestures on the pitch.
There are many who will attempt to pass this off simply as laddish behaviour. However, when one considers that football`s only openly gay player, Justin Fashanu only came out after he retired from the game, and then he hanged himself, we have an idea just how far the game has to go. According to best guesstimates, 1 in 10 people is gay. There is no reason why footballers should be any different, which suggests that in the dressing room of any team, there are one or two gay men who feel that they have to hide their identities to protect their identities. It`s the behaviour of the likes of Robbie Fowler that make their lives far more difficult, not to mention that of the hordes of idiots in the terraces who latch on to this. And the clubs that let them get away with it, whilst punishing other forms of prejudice.
It would be wrong to elevate Graeme to the status of 'martyr` because he suffered an unacceptable (and erroneous) prejudice because of his choice of newspaper. We also have to cite, however, that he is a genuinely articulate bloke. His columns in The Guardian were always a joy to read. The only person who has come close is Portsmouth`s David James, another highly intelligent footballer, who uses his platform to tackle football`s involvement in wider issues, whether it`s the protection of the environment (and we`ll forgive him the mistaken rant he made about the toilets at Chelsea), or homophobia.
These are people who genuinely have something to say and are intelligent, which contrasts with Frank`s conceit that, just because he went to a good school and he is a great player, people should listen to him. In Graeme`s case, we note also that, like Pat Nevin before him (another terminal Guardian reader), Graeme has more interesting tastes in music than the ubiquitous R&B slop.
But what contrasts Graeme with Frank even more is that Graeme demonstrates an admirable self-deprecation. Of the ribbing he received from moronic players about the fact that he read a quality newspaper, he readily admits that "I stupidly reacted a bit more to it than I should have done" rather than launching into a rant of self-justification. He also jokes that he had not so much chosen the wrong career as the wrong newspaper.
The newspaper which got him into so much trouble, The Guardian, recently published a leader column entitled "in praise of Graeme Le Saux". Very amusingly, Graeme reacted by saying "Yeah, that was brilliant. Until the next day when the column was 'In praise of ... marmalade`. I sat there and thought: is this what it comes to, I'm on the same level as a breakfast condiment. That brought me down a peg or two."
That`s the self-deprecation that comes from genuine intelligence, i.e. a recognition that, far from being a messiah, a role model or even a (self-appointed) spokesperson, he was just a first-rate artisan in an area of inconsequence. But also an intelligent and articulate person whose views and his journey in life make it genuinely worth listening to him.